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It’s an Outrage

Regulations Are Entirely to Blame for Unemployment and a Leading Cause of Death in the United States, According to Industry and Its Allies

By Taylor Lincoln

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I. Introduction

If forecasts of industry and its allies are to be believed, regulations are responsible for causing job losses far in excess of the number of people who are currently unemployed and are a leading cause of death in the United States.

Studies and predictions that have been put forth over the past four decades suggest that regulations on discrete matters such as fuel economy standards, toxic emissions, and workplace safety cost or threatened more than 55 million jobs. [See Figure 1] That is nearly five times the total number of Americans currently unemployed, which is about 11.3 million.

Studies on the purported effects of regulations writ large have arrived at similarly dramatic conclusions. For instance, a study published in 2011 by the Washington, D.C., Phoenix Center concluded that reducing federal regulatory spending by 16 percent would add more than 18 million jobs over five years. That’s one-and-a-half new jobs for every person currently unemployed and twice the number of jobs lost during the Great Recession. Federal regulations are cumulatively responsible for exacting a toll of about 23.2 million lost jobs a year, according to the Phoenix Center’s formula. By this reasoning, regulations have eliminated more jobs in the past seven years than the total number of jobs currently in existence in the United States.

Some claims put forth by critics of regulations go even further. One strain of thought postulates that regulations are a major cause of premature deaths. Purveyors of this logic argue that regulations depress incomes; people with lower incomes live less long than those with higher incomes; thus, regulations must hasten death. Assumptions that a Heritage Foundation scholar used in a paper on this topic published in the 1990s coupled with an updated estimate on the national cost of regulations yield the conclusion that regulations are now the third-leading killer of Americans.

Of course, even the strongest critics would acknowledge that regulations could not possibly be exacting a toll on the epic scale that the historical predictions and other analyses outlined in this paper suggest. In large part, that is because none of predictions covered in this paper proved remotely accurate. But these flawed claims remain relevant because they are so similar in nature to the projections that industry and its allies are putting forth today about the alleged “job killing” effects of regulations. The question is whether industry’s track record or its rhetoric will carry the day?